Analysis Project # 2 – Formal Analysis – The Lady Eve

December 9th, 2011

Laura Mulvey’s theory of the male gaze states that males are the bearers of the gaze in classical cinema. Mulvey’s argument is that men are the voyeurs and women are not allowed to stare back. It is as if the women are being controlled. The men are predators and the women are they prey. The audience is not allowed to empathize with the female character. It also states that the way the camera is positioned does not allow for women to control what we see. The woman is totally objectified and she is on display for us to see. The audience then takes the perspective of the male. Although this argument remains true in many examples of classical cinema during Code Hollywood, there are some examples that contest this claim The male gaze is all too common in mainstream cinema. There are countless films where a woman walks into a room and a man or group of men gaze at this woman. She is the subject of their admiration, and most of time it is based purely off of looks alone.

One example of the gaze is in the film The Lady Eve (1941). This film is a clear commentary on gender politics. Jean Harrington (Barbara Stanwyck) is a con artist who, along with her father Colonel (Chalres Coburn), take advantage of the naïve and docile snake lover Charles Pike (Henry Fonda). In this film, it is clear that Charles is being taken advantage of by Jean.  Charles is the puppet and Jean is the puppeteer, pulling the strings and showing she holds authority.

The very first time we encounter this in the film is in the scene where Jean picks Charles apart when looking at him through her compact mirror. Jean, the female, is the voyeur. We see everything from the eyes of the female protagonist. Charles is kind of inferior and Jean is the bearer of the gaze. She enlightens the audience as to what is happening behind her, as women sitting around Charles each attempt to capture his attention because they are all so smitten with him. Jean is in control here and Charles is inferior because he has no dominating power over what we see. This scene is narrated via the female gaze. Jean objectifies Charles; However, the objectification that occurs is an objectification of his character, not one of his looks or physical appearance.

Even Jean’s monologue in this scene serves as sort of an inner monologue of Charles’ thoughts. She says “Now who else is after me?” “These women don’t give you a woman’s peace, do they?” while still looking at Charles through her compact mirror. She is able to anticipate Charles’ every move, every thought, and yet Charles is not able to speak for himself or defend himself from her remarks. Jean bears the gaze and her thoughts are the only ones that matter in this scene. As with the male gaze, in the female gaze, the audience is not allowed to empathize with the male. In this scene especially, it seems as though Charles is just something to look at.

This film has a heavily influenced theme of female indentify and trying to break the gender constructions made by society. Society’s patriarchal influence is contested by Jean’s character. She breaks the mold of a submissive female lead. We are not watching her to admire her; rather, Jean is the voyeur in control in this film. She is able to watch and toy with Charles without him even realizing it. She even goes by a new identity (“the lady Eve”) later on in the film after Charles breaks up with her in order to get back at him. And Charles is, of course, oblivious to this. Since this film is a screwball comedy, it is at most times comedic. The comedy in the film is reliant on how Jean is able to use and abuse her authority over Charles’ every move.

Breathless (1960)

December 2nd, 2011

So I’m a little late on this blog post about Breathless (1960) but here it goes.

This was my second time watching A Bout de Souffle (1960) , also known as Breathless, directed by the incomparable Jean-Luc Godard . The first time I watched it was in a movie club I was a part of in high school a few years ago. I didn’t really pay much attention to it then as I did now. This film is part of the French Nouvelle Vague (New Wave) genre, which dealt with straying away from the classical French cinema style and using more experimential techniques. The director also chooses to use “jump cuts” throughout the film, which can be missed by the blink of an eye.

Aside from all the stylistic techniques, and the storyline itself, I most appreciated the French. I love the French language, and studied it all throughout middle school and high school, so I was able to pick up some of the conversations and idomatic expressions that were said throughout the movie by the film’s protagonists; Michel Poccard (played by Jean-Paul Belmondo) and Patricia Franchini (played by Jean Seberg). Dialogue seems to be really important in the film, something that I really enjoyed. The most memorable conversation, in my opinion, took place in Patricia’s hotel room. Often times it was sexual and playful banter between the two protagonists. It had a light and kind of natural feel to it.

A film like this, that takes it stylistic techniques very seriously, seems to be what paved the way for directors like Quentin Tarantino. There are a number of scenes in his movies where two characters have long conversations, and we the audience are anxiously awaiting for what happens next in the dialogue. I really loved the standout character that was Michel. He was charming yet annoying, cool and rebellious. Did I mention how handsome he looked doing something as mundane as smoking a cigarette? I swear, there was not a moment where I did not see him with a cigarette in his hand. Mind you, I do NOT smoke, but Michel made it look oh-so cool.

This film is historically specific in that it was completely different from other films of the same time period. It paved the way for a new style of filmmaking, one that involved more character development. This film, on the surface, seems to be a typical crime story about a man who is running from the cops and finds a beautiful girl along the way, and asks her to run away with him. However, we discover that Breathless does more than just storytell. It is innovative and avant garde, because we are interested and invested in the characters. Although I may not have wanted to, I also empathized with Michel a bit. All in all, it’s a great French New Wave film. And it really makes me wanna visit Paris one day!

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

November 4th, 2011

I must say, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) was probably one of the most enjoyable films I’ve seen in this course thus far. I wouldn’t call myself a sci-fi buff by any means, but sci-fi movies are always entertaining to me, and this one provided the right amount of suspense and thrill to hold my attention.
I had seen this movie once in high school and I guess not appreciated its appeal as I do now.

It’s quite fascinating really the effect tthat this film has, cinematically. The one scene i can’t shake from my memory is the scene where all of the infected people walk in unison, towards the delta in the middle of the street. They all come from different directions but they walk in a uniform fashion. It’s so incredibly eerie! I feel like this sci-fi works better than many films of our generation. Right now, we are in the era of the blockbuster, and the films that come out nowadays are only focused on profiting two or three times the amount that it cost to make the movie to begin with. There’s more focus now on the special effects, and the loud explosions, and the Michael Bay-type sci-fi films that can cause the most spectacle. I feel like Invasion of the Body Snatchers didn’t need any of that. It  stood on its low-budget alone and still successfully stood as a disturbing sci-fi film.

I mean, come on, plant pods taking over Los Angeles? Sounds crazy! It would not work in cinema in our present time. But if you can just imagine the American mindset at this time, and the fear that was subconsciously on the minds of many Americans, the paranoia aspect of the film really takes a toll on you. As I put myself in the time period of the 1950’s, where America’s paranoia was ever present, you can see how this film can tap into the psyche of the American public and identify with what was going on in the real-life political world. The film is allegorical in terms of its representation of paranoia; Americans were scared of and resistant toward a spread of socialist Communism. The loss of human emotion is even mentioned by the doctor at one point in the film, which hints at the ideas of Communism (conformity with no individuality).

Again, this film was kind of disturbing, but all in all it was a great watch and really entertaining. I wish I had more to say but it’s kind of late and my eyes feel heavy and thus my train of thought is no longer on track. I must sleep now in order to make on time to class tomorrow morning.

Till next time.

Analysis Project #1 – Double Indemnity (1944)

October 17th, 2011

Analysis Project #1 – Shot-by-shot breakdown of a scene

Double Indemnity
(1944) is one of the prime examples of the first films to use the movie concept of film noir. Film noir, literally meaning ‘black film’ in French, is a series of Hollywood films that came out in the 1940’s and 1950’s that all had similar concepts, and visual styles. Some of these include, but are not limited to: use of shadows, extremes of darkness and lightness, the use of a femme fatale character, the use of voiceover. A femme fatale is the leading lady in a film noir film who acts as the seductress and often plays with the head of the leading male protagonist. She is smart, mischievous, and often These films did a great job of providing some sort of commentary regarding the social order and even sometimes the gender roles of American society.
This scene that I am about to analyze is one of the first of the film, which begins at 09:04. And ends at 12:49.

 

Walter Neff (played by Fred MacMurray) has just introduced himself to the lady of the house that he has entered, Phyllis Dietrichson (played by Barbara Stanwyck). He explained that he is there for a renewal on the insurance of Mr. Dietrichson’s (played by Tom Powers) car.
1st shot: (10 seconds) XLS of Walter Neff walking into the living room. The camera is straight on. We also see the shadows of Venetian blinds on the left hand side. The use of low-key lighting to create shadows is imperative in the style of film noir. There is a voiceover of Neff explaining the ambiance of being in that living room. There is also non diegetic music playing in the background. A fast-paced violin is heard. The camera pans left to follow Walter in the direction he is walking.
2nd shot: (6 seconds) Reverse MS Walter looking at two frames; one of Mr. Dietrichson and one of Dietrichson’s daughter Lola.
3rd shot: (18 seconds) XLS of Walter again. Venetian blinds give off a shadowy presence on the left hand side. The violin music can be heard faintly. Walter’s voice over is still present. Walter walks up in the frame straight-on, and at the center. There is low-key lighting used in the shot that gives off the shadows created by the blinds.
4th shot: (29 seconds) Long take, Medium shot of Phyllis’s feet walking down the stairs. The camera is panning down, following the movement of her feet. The shot then becomes a long shot of Phyllis, all-dressed and ready to speak with Walter. The camera continues panning and following her movement as she approaches Walter. Walter walks into the shot, which now becomes a medium shot. Phyllis leaves the shot and Walter is left in the center of it.
5th shot: (58 seconds) Extremely long take. Long shot of Phyllis walking to the right of the shot and into her chair. Walter sits on the left hand side right across from her. No music is heard in the background. Phyllis gets up and the camera pans right to follow her movement. She paces back and forth, as if pondering on an idea.
6th shot: (3 seconds) Medium reverse shot Walter in the chair. The camera is straight on, and Walter is looking up at Phyllis.
7th shot: (10 seconds) Medium reverse shot of Phyllis, again looking as if she is thinking or plotting. Camera pans left as Phyllis moves back to her chair. She sits, and the shot is now shared again with Walter sitting on the left.
8th shot: (6 seconds) Medium shot of Walter. The shadows of the blinds are still present in the background. No music or voiceover can be heard from here on until the end of the scene.
9th shot: (5 seconds) Medium reverse shot of Phyllis in her chair.
10th shot: (5 seconds) Medium reverse shot of Walter.
11th shot: (12 seconds) Long shot of Phyllis and Walter sitting in their chairs. The shadows of the blinds take up the entire background of the shot. There is low-key lighting as the forefront looks very dark. Phyllis gets up and walks to the left of the shot. The camera pans to follow. Walter gets up from his chair as well.
12th shot: (5 seconds) Medium reverse shot of Phyllis responding to Walter.
13th shot: (5 seconds) Medium reverse shot of Walter responding to Phyllis. There is some playful flirtation that is occurring in this moment.
14th shot: (6 seconds) Medium reverse shot of Phyllis responding to Walter.
15th shot: (21 seconds) Medium shot of both Walter and Phyllis. Walter exits and camera pans left to follow. The shadows of the blinds are seen in the mirror and on the right hand wall. Camera continues following Walter’s movements, which now match with Phyllis, as they both make their way to the door.

 

This scene exemplifies film noir in a number of ways. The use of shadows in throughout the scene made by the venetian blinds is a prime example of film noir. Walter is placed in the darkness while most of the lightness is coming from the blinds. The film also uses a lot of low key lighting, as in, incorrect and slightly exaggerated lighting, to create a dramatic feel to the scene. The femme fatale character that we see in Barbara Stanwyck’s character is also a sign that this film is in the style of film noir. In the 4th shot, we see the camera panning down Phyllis’ legs and feet, as is to bring forth her sex appeal. The femme fatale is a smart and seductive woman but with ulterior motives. We can tell that Walter is attracted to her. In the scene before this one, he is looking up at Phyllis as she talks to him from the top of the staircase in nothing but a towel. The sexual obsession-type theme and the inclusion of a femme fatale character here is one the most famous characteristics of a film noir. Walter’s voice over is also very popular in film noir. Walter’s voice over provides his thoughts and we, the audience, can identify with what he is feeling. The whole concept of this murder mystery is also a feature of film noir.
The fact that there is a femme fatale shows that there is a definite commentary on the social and gender roles of society. This film, as do other film noirs, sort of empowers women in a way because women in these films play a huge role in the male protagonist’s thoughts and actions. A lot of the time, the women are the cause of the demise and destruction of the male countepart’s life. In film noir, the man is put in uncompromising situations because of his love for the femme fatale. The woman is a master of manipulation, and this is something that challenges the social norms that society is used to. In Walter’s case, he fell under the trap of a woman and, in result, was an accomplice in murdering her husband. The femme fatale is a smart woman; loving and caring on the outside, but has a manipulative quality about her that the male only detects at the end of the film. However, film noir breaks the rules of social norms. The female that is unintelligent and sensitive in society is now the woman who can be independent and manipulative at the same time.

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September 9th, 2011

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